New Hampshire residents can no longer use vapes or e-cigarettes inside public places, in accordance with the state’s newly amended Indoor Smoking Act, the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.
The act was originally passed in 1990, outlawing smoking in restaurants, schools, hospitals, grocery stores and other public, indoor spaces to protect people from the negative health effects of inhaling secondhand smoke, such as respiratory infections.
Vaping and other e-cigarette use is now included in the act, the state health department said in a news release, to properly reflect the state’s definition of smoking. The definition was expanded in 2019 in a law pertaining to youth sale and use of vaping products.
And while there is limited research on the health effects of inhaling secondhand aerosol produced from a vape or e-cigarette, local health and wellness professionals interviewed Thursday say the amendment is a step in the right direction.
“We keep learning more and more about the harms of being exposed to secondhand aerosol, in the same [way] that we learned about secondhand exposure to regular cigarettes,” said Seth Emont, who manages the Tobacco Cessation Program at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.
Vaping refers to inhaling vapor from an electronic device, such as an e-cigarette, which frequently involves heating a liquid that can contain nicotine, marijuana or other substances. Those active ingredients are delivered in solvents.
Originally marketed as a way to help smokers quit, the devices have gained mass popularity among youth over the past five years, according to data from the TruthInitiative, a nonprofit organization aimed at making America tobacco free.
The Food and Drug Administration has since enacted strict regulations for the products, such as requiring visible warning labels and banning the sale to or use of the devices by minors.
Last fall, vaping-associated lung injuries swept the nation, resulting in nearly 3,000 hospitalizations and 68 confirmed deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research suggests the main culprit, after months of uncertainty, was the addition of vitamin E acetate — oil derived from vitamin E that typically does not cause harm when ingested or applied to the skin.
This additive is often included in THC-containing e-cigarettes or vapes purchased from informal sources, like friends or online dealers, according to the CDC.
Ultimately, the CDC says those with no history of smoking should not pick up a vape or similar device, but those who do are better off using an e-cigarette than a traditional one.
And though what is known about these devices’ secondhand health effects is scant, it’s likely they’re similar to that of traditional cigarette smoke, according to Emont, of Cheshire Medical’s Tobacco Cessation Program.
“Yes, there are chemicals that are irritants, yes, there are chemicals that harm children, but we don’t yet know what the long-term effects of e-cigarette use or passive e-cigarette use will be,” he said.
Emont mentioned a study done by the CDC in 2017, which showed more than half of middle and high school students in the United States reported exposure to secondhand tobacco product emissions in indoor or outdoor public places.
The study warned of the complications e-cigarettes pose to the enforcement of indoor smoking laws, and that the use of these devices in public spaces could lead to renormalization of tobacco use.
“Certainly there has been research that’s shown that the aerosol from e-cigarettes might not contain as many chemicals as side-stream smoke from cigarettes, but it’s still not safe. It could be safer, but is it safe? No,” Emont said.
Peter Sebert, program director for the Keene Family YMCA, said this update will be instrumental in shifting people’s views on vaping.
Sebert is the frontrunner for the Y’s Community Coalition on Youth Substance Use — launched in 2018 to devise long-term strategies to minimize the risk of substance use in local children and teens, including marijuana and nicotine.
The number of youth using vaping products, he said, continues to dramatically increase each year, including in the Granite State.
Last year, 50 percent of New Hampshire high school seniors reportedly tried an e-cigarette or vape in that same year. In 2017, only 24 percent said they’d used a vaping product.
Sebert said he hopes this new amendment helps people educate themselves further on e-cigarette use.
“We are hopefully starting to change the ‘social norm’ or acceptance for using these products from something that is OK, and that our children see people doing on a regular basis, to something that is not healthy and less accepted by our community,” Sebert said.Those interested can learn about the state’s QuitNow-NH program at www.quitnownh.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.